Lance Corporal Stanley Sumner – Killed in Action 20th January 1917

Court Road

Title: Court Road
Description: Court Road (1938). Stanley's house is towards the rear of the row of houses on the left. Courtesy of the Banstead History Research Group. by-nc

Stanley Douglas Selby Sumner was born in Eltham, Kent, on 3rd July 1885. He was the son of Edmund Sumner, a solicitor, and Alice Selby, Edmund’s second wife. Stanley was the tenth of eleven children born to Edmund in his two marriages. Stanley lost his mother when he was just 3 years old and his father when he was 13.

Stanley attended Dulwich College between 1898 and 1903, where he studied on the Modern (science and engineering, etc.) side of the School. He enjoyed playing tennis, swimming and carpentry. After leaving school, he became Scoutmaster of the 21st North East London (Hoxton) Troop and Captain of the Boys Brigade in Bermondsey.

Stanley’s brother, Horace, a shipbroker, had moved to Banstead by 1911, living in Downs View, a large house on the High Street which stood where the loading bay of Waitrose is today. Five of Horace’s brothers and sisters came to live with him or were visiting on census night 1911. Stanley and Horace moved to a newly-built semi-detached villa, Quendon (now number 17), in Court Road, in 1912-13.

By early 1911, Stanley had decided to take Holy Orders and had begun to study Theology. He passed an entrance exam for King’s College, London, in July of that year and started to study for his Theological AKC (Associate of King’s College) degree in October. He gained his degree in the spring of 1915 and went on to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology at Durham University (King’s had an arrangement with Durham where King’s graduates only had to study at Durham for one year to gain the prestigious Durham BA).

Stanley volunteered to attest under the Derby Scheme in 1915, probably while he was at home for the Christmas holidays, and formally enlisted in London on 15th January 1916. He chose to join the East Surrey Regiment. His Derby Scheme group was called up for military service in February but Stanley applied to the Epsom Rural Tribunal at Epsom Police Court on 30th March for a deferment and was granted a conditional exemption until he finished his studies.

He joined the Army in the summer of 1916 and served with the East Surrey Regiment. Once he had completed his basic training, he was posted to the 12th (Service) Battalion (Bermondsey) in France, probably in October 1916 when they were recovering from the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. He didn’t stay with them long and was transferred to the 13th (Service) Battalion (Wandsworth), who came south to the Somme battlefield at roughly the same time that the 12th Battalion were heading north to leave it. Stanley served with ‘A’ Company of the 13th Battalion.

The 13th East Surreys arrived on the Somme in November just as the fighting came to an end for the winter. They trained for a week, practising the attack, before holding trenches for a week near Hebuterne. The last week of November and most of December were spent training in camp with 40th Division. On Christmas Eve, church parade was held in the morning and a Battalion concert took place in the evening. Christmas Day 1916 began with church parade and the Chaplain organised a cinematograph performance.

Stanley was considered to be officer material and was made up to acting lance corporal at some point during the winter, perhaps whilst in camp. He was to be sent home to England on leave as soon as the Battalion could afford to spare him and then he would take up a commission.

On Boxing Day, they took lorries to Maurepas, in the south of the Somme battlefield. 600 men relieved the 9th Highland Light Infantry in the dug-outs northeast of Bouchavesnes, at the boundary of the British and French sectors, and the remainder of the Battalion joined other men of 120th Brigade for working parties at Camp 20 near Suzanne, nearly ten miles away on the River Somme southwest of Maricourt. It was quiet at Bouchavesnes and many men were employed lining the floor of trenches with duckboards. On 30th December, they moved from the support line into the firing line in the left subsector for two days before being relieved. The poor state of the trenches, impassable in places due to the “exceptionally severe” weather, and “intense” darkness meant that the relief took 7 hours to effect. They went into Camp 21 on the Suzanne-Maricourt road, arriving by lorry in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1917, with one company delayed so much that it was 9am by the time they made it to the Camp. The men were absolutely pasted with mud and their three rest days were spent in cleaning up.

On 4th January, they returned to the frontline, manning the left subsection in the Rancourt sector. Ground conditions were so bad that mules had to be used to carry the rations, water and ammunition, the mud being waist-deep in places, and the journey took them 12 to 15 hours. There were no trenches here, the rain washed them away and then the ground froze too hard to dig, so the line was just a series of outposts in shell-holes or behind piles of sandbags, each manned by Lewis Guns (light machine-guns) and a few men. It was not possible to reach the outposts during the day and so rations and water could only be brought up at night and wounded men would have to wait for dark before they were evacuated. Fortunately the front was quiet except for some shelling by both sides. Two companies were in the firing line, two in the support line, and they swapped places after two days; Stanley’s ‘A’ Company were on the right of the firing line on 4th and 5th January. On the 8th, they went into Brigade Reserve in tents at Camp B, Maurepas, and spent the next few days resting and improving the Camp. When 120th Brigade were relieved on 12th January, the 13th East Surreys returned to Camp 21, south of Maricourt, where the Camp Commandant set them to work cleaning and making “considerable” improvements to the Camp.

On the 18th, they returned to the left subsector at Bouschavesnes, with two companies in the firing line, one in the support lines and the fourth company in reserve at Andover Place (500 yards southeast of Maricourt). It seems likely that Stanley’s company were in the firing line.

The following day, British shelling provoked a response from the German heavy artillery and the firing line was shelled. In the evening, between 9pm and 11:30pm, the Germans dropped between 500 and 600 gas shells on Andover Place. The Battalion had been fitted with the very effective new Small Box Respirator gas mask in November and the 13th East Surreys only suffered 4 casualties.

A British bombardment again needled the Germans into replying on the 20th and the front line and support line were shelled several times during the day. The Germans seemed to be registering their trench mortars that day and a large number of aerial darts were fired at the left company in the firing line. In the evening, the companies in the firing line were relieved. Two men were killed that day; Stanley was one of them. He was 31 years old.

Stanley was buried 1,000 yards east of Maurepas, perhaps close to where he fell if he was killed during the relief, along with Private F Bennett of ‘C’ Company, who was the other man to fall that day. Their graves were marked with wooden crosses and the men were later reburied at Hem Farm Military Cemetery, Hem-Monacu, on the northern banks of the River Somme.

Stanley is commemorated on the Banstead War Memorial, the Garton War Memorial in All Saints churchyard and on the wooden panels in the Lady Chapel at All Saints. He is also honoured in the All Saints Book of Men Who Served Overseas and the Scout Association’s WW1 Roll of Honour.

Dulwich College and King’s College both produced records of the war service of their former students but unfortunately Stanley is not featured in either. Neither is his name on the war memorials at Dulwich College, King’s College or Durham University but it will be added to addenda plaques at both Dulwich and King’s in the near future and hopefully he will be commemorated at Durham University soon too.

On 20th January 2017, a memorial service was held at All Saints, Banstead, to mark the 100th anniversary of Stanley’s death. Calista Lucy and Ed Walter of Dulwich College Archives tolled the bell 100 times in Stanley’s memory.


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